Drafted with the 41st overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Jonathan Taylor left Wisconsin for his new home with the Indianapolis Colts. Standing 5-foot-10, 226 pounds, Taylor ran a blazing 4.39 40-yard dash. After rushing for over 6,000 yards in three seasons at Wisconsin, Taylor quickly assimilated to the rigors of the NFL. In fact, Taylor finished as the third-leading rusher in the NFL in 2020 as a rookie.
Taking a look at that first NFL season, the then 21-year old Taylor put up 1,169 rushing yards and 11 scores on 232 carries. Also impressive as a receiver, Taylor notched an additional 36 receptions, 299 yards, and one score on 39 targets. This remains even more impressive considering Taylor received little offseason preparation time due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Digging into his full body of work, Taylor also continued to improve throughout the season with Indianapolis. Originally a part-time player in the offense, Taylor’s snaps and touches rose throughout the season. Taylor averaged 22.8 touches per game in his final five contests, including elevated pass game work. Taylor actually averaged 2.7 targets per game, despite the presence of pass-game specialist Nyheim Hines. This also included 15 carries of 15+ yards and 685 yards after contact.
As for the offensive environment, Frank Reich remains head coach of the Indianapolis Colts with Marcus Brady now coordinating the offense. Brady receives a promotion as an in-house replacement after coaching quarterbacks for the last two seasons. Reich remains the primary play-caller here, suggesting Taylor’s late-season usage may also continue. However, a number of pieces within the offense continue to shift.
The biggest change in the entire offense remains quarterback. The Colts moved on from Philip Rivers to Carson Wentz with Rivers’ retirement. Wentz struggled mightily last year, completing a career-low 57.4% of his passes for 2,620 yards, 16 scores, and 15 interceptions. However, just the year prior, Wentz eclipsed 4,000 yards and completed 64% of his passes. In that 2019 season, Miles Sanders also notched 50 receptions and 818 rushing yards on 179 carries under Wentz. The Colts also return four of five starting offensive linemen, but have a glaring hole at left tackle due to the retirement of Anthony Castonzo. While they may look to an in-house replacement or the free-agent market, the Colts offensive line still presents an upgrade from the 2020 Eagle’s injury-plagued unit that Wentz played with in 2020.
Looking towards the future, Taylor still has an untapped ceiling at the NFL level. Taylor’s late-season usage in 2020 suggests a potential three-down role. However, Indianapolis still has Nyheim Hines on the roster and they return Marlon Mack from a season-ending injury. Mack signed a mere one-year deal worth $2 million dollars, suggesting a depth role at best. Hines will hit free agency after the 2021 season, but he remains with the team for this upcoming season.
Hines produced an efficient 380 yards on 89 carries last year, with another 482 on 63 receptions. However, Taylor’s 8.3 yards per reception and 5.0 yards per carry bested Hines’ 7.7 yards per receptions and 4.3 yards per carry. Looking back to 2019, Mack also only accounted for 4.4 yards per carry and 5.9 yards per reception in his career-best season. While Hines likely retains his role as an explosive change of pace back, Taylor showed the ability to handle a full NFL workload as a rookie.
While Taylor may not receive 300 carries until Hines hits free agency in 2022, he still should receive a bulk of the running back work behind an above-average offensive line. With Carson Wentz providing a theoretical upgrade to the offense, Taylor’s late-season workload makes him an attractive fantasy selection. Off the board right at the end of the first round, Taylor remains a worthwhile pick in all formats.
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